Recent Posts

25 March 2020

An Update from the CGS President

As most of you know, the CGS library has been closed since March 12 and we have canceled all public CGS activities through the end of April. Fortunately, many of our volunteers are able to work from home. The library closure and cancellation of classes may continue into May. Please check our website: for the current status. These are extraordinary times for CGS and this closure is unprecedented in the memory of any of us–but I’m sure you’re aware of why we have taken these steps. Due to the age demographic in the genealogy community, CGS will remain on the cautious side of any government mandates. Although I am not aware of any library or class attendees having tested positive for the coronavirus aka COVID-19, the threat is real and we are concerned for the health and safety of our patrons, friends and volunteers.

Individually, we will come through this and CGS will come through this. We are already planning the transition back to normal CGS operations on the other side although when that transition will start is unknown at this point. Rescheduling of canceled classes or events will have to be coordinated with the instructors and the calendar of events at each venue. We appreciate your support and understanding as we go down this road. The library closure will cause some disruption in our processing of membership dues renewals but we will not drop any members for non-payment of dues until the end of June. Rather than having individuals cancel their class registration, rest assured that all fees paid will be refunded for classes or events if they have been canceled.

I think most genealogists have tasks that have been put aside until someday when they have more time. Well, that time has come for many of us. It’s a good time to organize your family history files. I’ve started writing a narrative history for each of my grandparents based on years of accumulated information. And after that, I have to complete work on eight great-grandparents. Those narratives can be revised if new information is discovered but this is a great time to get started.

Jim Sorenson, President

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

23 March 2020

Genealogy learning in the time of coronavirus

While genealogy is often seen as a solitary pursuit, the abundance of conferences, classes, and other gatherings is evidence that we also work and learn together as a community. Although the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many planned events this year, the virtual learning goes on. This is a great time to acquaint or re-acquaint yourself with the multitude of high-quality free webinars available to anyone with an Internet connection. While we can't list every single webinar, here are some good places to start:

The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society hosts a multitude of webinars in March and April 2020. CGS past president Linda Harms Okazaki is speaking this Friday, March 27 on "A Japanese American Family from 1902-1992: Finding Records to Recreate the Hirai Family Story."

Ancestry Academy is a huge repository of free lectures and presentations on everything from beginning genealogy to understanding vital records to specialized courses on Mexican Civil Registrations, Quaker Research, common genealogy myths and so much more. The web videos range in length from a few minutes to an hour or more. Browse the collection here:

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City usually hosts monthly classes and webinars year-round. As with Ancestry, its collection is huge and topics are varied. While the library is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, live webinars continue through March; this week they include presentations on Germans from Russia, Irish ancestry, and descendancy research. All web classes are archived and accessible at FamilySearch.

RootsTech, possibly the largest annual genealogy conference in the world, makes its sessions available online during the event and keeps them viewable for free on its website afterwards. You can watch RootsTech sessions from 2015 through 2020 at their Video Archive.

Legacy Family Tree, partnering with MyHeritage, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and other organizations, hosts free live webinars throughout the year, many led by some of the biggest names in genealogy. In the next few weeks, for example, Craig R. Scott speaks on "Using Fold3 to Your Advantage," Rick Sayre talks about "The General Land Office Website: A Genealogical Gem," and Rebecca Whitman Koford discusses the Maryland State Archives. Anyone may register and watch the live seminars for free, but you must pay an annual membership fee ($49.95) to access instructors' notes or view the recorded sessions afterward. The Webinar Library does contain many recorded presentations that are free to the public.

The Southern California Genealogical Society offers webcasts once or twice monthly, on a model similar to that of Legacy Family Tree, where anyone may register to watch the initial broadcast for free. You must be a member of SCGS to view the archived broadcasts. Next up: Julie Goucher talks about "Foundations to Researching in Europe" on April 4.

American Ancestors offers webinars (free) and many online classes (for a fee) throughout the year. The next free webinar is scheduled for April 30, when Curt DiCamillo presents "Treasures of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society." Learn more at

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

18 March 2020

Update on CGS Library closure

Due to concerns about COVID 19, the CGS library will now be closed through at least April 15. All CGS classes and events have been canceled through the end of April (except for those held with remote conferencing). This closure and cancellation may be extended, so please check our website before visiting. Note that this also applies to classes scheduled at the Oakland Family Search Library: OFSL, as well as the Family Search Library in Salt Lake City, announced their closure on March 13 until further notice.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

16 March 2020

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here's a recipe for Irish Soda Bread

Theresa Murphy shares this family tradition:

Irish soda bread and Mayo flag
Part of the fun in telling our family stories is sharing the recipes we cherish that bring us comfort and fond memories of our homes. My family and my husband’s both came from Ireland and at this time of year, I like to bake Irish soda bread as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Especially now, as many of us are staying in to stay healthy, I thought it would be fun to share this recipe–a way to connect and something to try now that we have more time on our hands.

Now, having traveled in Ireland, I can tell you that there are as many soda bread recipes as there are townlands. This recipe has its roots in County Cork. My mother-in-law was the family historian and genealogist, and she both visited Ireland and stayed in touch with friends and relatives in Inchigeelagh, her father’s home, and Coolclogher, her grandmother’s birthplace.

Here’s the recipe for Mary Kearney Murphy’s Irish Soda BreadSlainté (to your health)!

4 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking soda
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 ½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. shortening
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 ½ c. buttermilk
1 ½ cup raisins
2 Tbsp. caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine dry ingredients, except raisins and caraway seeds. Cut in shortening. Add buttermilk, raisins, and caraway seeds. Mix well and knead on a floured board until smooth. Shape dough into a ball. Place on a buttered cookie sheet and flatten into a 7-inch circle. Cut a cross in the top with a floured knife. Bake 30-40 minutes. Cool completely before cutting.

Optional: Melt 1 Tbsp. butter and brush on top of loaf as soon as you take it from the oven. (I do not do this.)

If you have a favorite family recipe and a memory to go with it, why not share it? Email blog editor Jennifer Dix: [email protected]

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society

13 March 2020

Now's Your Chance

CGS member Chris Pattillo writes:

For all our CGS members now is your chance to focus on that brick wall or organizing project that you’ve been putting off. What else are you going to do now that all the fun things you’ve planned are being canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus?

No more excuses that you don’t have time. Suddenly, time has been freed up. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As you cross out plans on your calendar because they’ve been canceled replace those notes with "Work on My Family History," or "Tackle That Brick Wall," or "Start Writing Now!"

Maybe you’ve been putting off a big organization project or avoiding facing a massive pile of filing. What about scanning all those photos? Well, now you have chucks of free time–the perfect time to tackle one of those boulders.

Above is a photo of my paternal grandmother Anna from the time when she lived with her older sister Kate in Rhyolite, Nevada. This is one of three photos that I described in detail on my family history blog for her biography.

Do you really want to start writing your family’s story but just don’t know how to start? Well, here is an idea–one that I’d planned to introduce during my blogging class that was scheduled for March 28 at the CGS Library but has now been postponed indefinitely. If you don’t think you can write, try this and see what happens: Find or buy some kind of audio recorder–I use an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder but a smart phone that takes voice messages will work. Even an old-fashioned reel-to-reel or a cassette recorder will work. Next find some old photos that show the person, family or event that you want to write about. Then pretend you are talking to someone from a future generation who will be thrilled to find what you wrote when they find it fifty years in the future. Turn on the recording device and simply describe what is in the photo. Tell a story about that person and some of the little things that you remember about them, or your parents or grandparents told you about them.

Here is another photo from the same time period. I used these to write about the individuals, and the setting-what the landscape looked like. I described the house in detail and even estimated its dimensions to explain how small the house was. I also pointed out the pet dog that appears in both photos.
Lots of people say they can’t write but I’ve never met anyone who said they can’t talk. So just talk normally and describe the person or event. Then play the recording back and type it up. That’s it, you’ve started writing your family history. Keep going–why not, what else have you got to do with all your free time? Oh, and forget about cleaning the garage.

Copyright © 2020 by California Genealogical Society